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Our Column

En español
Our Feverish Planet
By Javier Sierra

As we celebrate Earth Month, the best present we could give our planet is some attention, because it is sick with a fever- a fever called global warming. Luckily, we have the cure- if our government chooses to listen.

For decades, the world's most renowned scientists have been warning us that the billions of tons of polluting gases we have spewed into the atmosphere for 150 years would have severe consequences. They told us that those gases trap the sun's heat, which would increase the planet's temperature and trigger potentially catastrophic climatic changes -a phenomenon called the greenhouse effect.

But this tea kettle is already whistling loudly. 85 percent of Americans acknowledge the existence of global warming. It's no wonder. The symptoms of this disease are already too obvious.

According to NASA, out of the 20 hottest years on record, 19 have occurred since the 1980s. Starting in 1970, the surface of the planet suffering drought has more than doubled, which contributes to the unnecessary deaths of 150,000 people every year. According to the United Nations, the 20th Century has been the warmest in the last 1,000 years, and this curve started rising when the Industrial Revolution began.

Last year alone, the ice cap receded by 50 cubic miles (a cubic mile is five times the amount of water consumed by Los Angeles in one year). This rampant meltdown makes scientists fear the polar ice cap could disappear by 2060.

Since 1970, the ocean temperature has risen by one degree Fahrenheit. In that period, the number of Category 4 and 5 hurricanes has doubled, and their intensity and duration have increased by 50 percent. In other words, Katrina and Rita could now be the norm and not the exception.

Let's keep in mind the people who would suffer the worst consequences of global warming would be minorities, especially Latinos, because it would hit hardest the sectors of the economy- tourism and agriculture- that employ the most Hispanics.

But what has kept humanity practically paralyzed in the eyes of this threat to the planet's future, a threat which according to the chief scientific advisor to the British Crown is more serious than terrorism? A great deal of this responsibility falls square on the shoulders of the energy and oil industries, especially ExxonMobil, the world's largest corporation.

In 1988, prestigious NASA scientist James Hansen testified before Congress that a long-term warming trend had begun probably due to the greenhouse effect. Ever since then, the energy industry, led by ExxonMobil, has fought tooth and nail to discredit Hansen and the vast majority of the world's climatologists. It has done so by claiming that this warming is a natural process and by attacking the credibility of those scientists.

Even today, when corporations like Shell, British Petroleum and Texaco acknowledge the dangers of global warming, ExxonMobil continues funding the war against science with a $9-million propaganda campaign.

Among the 44 beneficiaries of this largesse are the American Enterprise Institute ($960,000) who sponsored a global warming "study" entitled "Don't Worry, Be Happy"; Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) ($290,000 from ExxonMobil and other oil corporations), who calls global warming "a hoax," and the American Legislative Exchange Council, which sponsored a "study" claiming that "global warming could actually save your life."

ExxonMobil has also been able to count on the unconditional support of the Bush administration, which has recited their talking points rejecting action on global warming. Up until now, the administration's biggest favor to ExxonMobil has been its rejection of the Kyoto Accord, a pact to reduce greenhouse gases signed by 166 countries.

Regardless of the White House's complicity, U.S. cities are taking matters into their own hands to fight global warming by embracing the "Cool Cities" program, a Sierra Club initiative that so far has attracted 224 cities, many of them with large Latino populations.

Through "Cool Cities," mayors are reducing their cities' emissions in three ways: switching their municipal fleets to hybrid cars, employing energy efficient technologies and raising their use of renewable energies, such as wind and solar. This is a breath of fresh air for our feverish planet.

Javier Sierra is a Sierra Club columnist. The Sierra Club is America's oldest, largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization.

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